Labour left-wingers joined forces with the Tories to condemn the Government's failure to sack Jo Moore, the special adviser to Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Transport.
The Conservatives traded insults with Mr Byers as MPs debated Ms Moore'snotorious e-mail, which suggested September 11 would be a good day to "bury" bad news.
Theresa May, the shadow Transport Secretary, said the memo – revealed this month by The Independent – had debased politics and brought the Government into disrepute. Mr Byers retorted by accusing her of replacing "innuendo with reality, allegation with truth, accusation with fact".
Backbench Labour disquiet with the memo was underlined by Tam Dalyell, the father of the House, who announced he intended to vote against the Government on the issue. He said: "If the Secretary of State cannot see that Ms Moore has committed a sackable offence, then I say questions are raised about his own fitness to be Secretary of State." Mr Dalyell said the memo was a "moral lapse" that revealed an "aggressive cynicism of media management".
Diane Abbott, the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, said Ms Moore should at least have been suspended.
She said: "The Tories were ruthless news managers when they were in power. But the Secretary of State must also be aware it's not enough to say to the country that the Tories were just as bad. People voted in 1997 for something different, something better."
Mrs May said that, although Tony Blair and ministers had condemned Ms Moore's memo, Labour had made a series of embarrassing policy announcements over the past month. They included the decision to pull the plug on Railtrack, the collapse of plans to build a national athletics stadium at Picketts Lock, north London and the confusion over testing sheep's brains for BSE.
"It typifies a culture of spin that says whatever the issue, spin matters more than substance. It's little wonder there is an attitude of cynicism to politicians and politics." She added: "You cling to Jo Moore because you know that if she goes, you will be next in line."
Mr Byers condemned the e-mail as "horrible, stupid and wrong" and said his adviser had been dealt with under civil service procedure. He said the press notice referred to in Ms Moore's memo – concerning councillors' allowances – had been cleared for release on 10 September. Mr Byers denied that Alun Evans, the department's director of communications, had been moved to another post because of a clash with Ms Moore over a story on the London Underground.
He said Mrs May had referred to the "culture of spin", but had indulged in a "spin around allegations that have no substance".
The Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, Don Foster, warned that the Government would lose public confidence if it continued to resist calls for a full inquiry. He said the "climate of spin and manipulation right across the Government" had damaged all politicians' reputations.
The former Tory minister Alan Howarth, now a Labour MP, told Mrs May: "There's nothing so unpleasant in politics as the pack in full cry in pursuit of an individual they have decided to tear to pieces. You are engaged in the politics of the mob."Reuse content